P. F. Sloan : An Interview in Japan

On 16 July, 1995, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter P. F. Sloan visited Japan for 5 days. Despite enjoying a large following among Japanese surf music fans for being half of The Fantastic Baggys, and folk music fans for his early solo work, such as the single "From A Distance", this was actually his very first visit to Japan, but, as he explained, he hopes to return soon. He very kindly granted me the opportunity to conduct the following interview:
-Phil, I'd like to begin by asking you the purpose of this trip.
- I've wanted to visit Japan for a very long time now, and I'm aware that my music has been very popular here. In fact, my latest CD, "Serenade Of The Seven Sisters", has only been released in Japan. Whenever I play a concert in the U.S.A., even at the smallest venue, there are invariably a group of fans who have come in from Tokyo for the show. I almost came to Japan in 1968, when "From A Distance" became a hit here. At that time, I'd been living in New York for about a year, staying at The Chelsea Hotel around people like Nico, Lou Reed, and Andy Warhol. I got a telegram from my ex-label, Dunhill Records, telling me to come back to L.A., but when I got back there, they wouldn't do anything for me! This time I was on my way to visit India, and a singer friend of mine in Los Angeles, Elliot Kendall, recommended that I stop here. So... better late than never!

-You actually started in the music business when you were 12, didn't you?
-Yes. In 1959, I released a single on the Aladdin label. One day I went to a music store in L.A. to buy a guitar, and Elvis Presley was also visiting the store at the same time, and he taught me a few chords! Then, when I was 16, I was in charge of A & R at an L. A. label! One of my most vivid memories from those days was in 1963, when a box of singles arrived from the U.K.. There was a very strong discrimination against British music at that time, and anything which came from there usually went straight into the bin! This particular box contained 4 demos by The Beatles, I think the singles were 'Love Me Do', 'Please Please Me', 'From Me To You', and 'Thank You Girl'. I realised their potential, and got them their first U.S. deal with the Vee-Jay label. Unfortunately none of these early records became hits! I later met them when they came to L.A., and saw their 1965 show at the Hollywood Bowl. But none of them were really interested in surf music! The Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was totally into The Beach Boys and other surf groups. When he and Mick Jagger were in L.A., they heard some Baggys demos, and Mick loved them, saying they were "Fantastic!". And, unlikely as it sounds, that's how the Baggys really got their name!

-Did you ever work with the Stones?
-Yes, I was actually the producer of the 'Paint It Black' session, although I wasn't credited for it. It was my idea for there to be a sitar on that record. I saw one in the corner of the studio, and I knew the song needed something a bit special, so we built it into the arrangement.

-What were your impressions of the L.A. music scene at that time?
-Every group that started in Los Angeles, The Doors, The Byrds, The Turtles, and so on, were ridiculed beyond belief by a group of folk purists in L.A. itself, who literally condemned every new thing that happened. They allowed Dylan to escape, but they had no appreciation at all for everything that Dylan spawned. For example, the Walker Brothers were playing around town, along Sunset. The underground, that I was part of, felt that they were very talented, but they were being ridiculed, forced to suicide by both this negative intelligent force, and the record companies there, so they decided to split, and were next heard of being megastars in Great Britain. It worked out well for them, but it destroyed me. Actually I wasn't obliterated by the "singout" purists, but by the very groups that were being obliterated!! The Byrds, The Doors, they were just trying to protect themselves. It was the pot calling the kettle black.

-How was your relationship with your own record company?
-There should be a book written about Dunhill! The scene at that time was very superficial, and the record company was quite unwilling to give me the creative space I should have been allowed. They felt they owned the name P.F. Sloan in the same way that you would own a brand name, so I was stripped of my individuality. Groups like The Grass Roots or The Mamas and The Papas were not integral groups, but ones with members that could be revolved. They felt that they owned the name P.F. Sloan, and could put out material as they liked under that name, as they did with The Fantastic Baggys.
-I guess you're referring to the fact that 2 further albums were released in South Africa after the actual Baggys demise, without your approval.
-Exactly! Today it would be unthinkable. They had the brand name of The Fantastic Baggys, and therefore they could sell the name whereever they wanted to, without caring about the material, the production or the work. I had written a letter to the South African Fantastic Baggys asking them if they would like any help with what they were doing, but Dunhill forbade me to have any contact with them at all. Their songs are not bad, but they are obviously different from the stuff we were doing.
-Around that time, you worked with Herman's Hermits.
-Right. I was in the audience watching Donovan on stage at The Trip, an L.A. nightclub on Sunset Boulevard. Mickie Most, his manager, came over to my table and said, "In two days, I need a song for Herman's Hermits for the movie 'A Must To Avoid'. Can you come up with a song tomorrow, and demo it the next day, so I can take it back to England to record it?" So I called my songwriting partner Steve Barri up at midnight - he was in bed, asleep - who said "No, I can't come, I'm not interested". So I went downstairs, used Donovan's guitar, and wrote the melody to "A Must To Avoid". The next day I called Steve up, but his wife was ill, and he couldn't come over, so I started writing most of the sketch for the song, and when we got together at the demo session, Steve was able to add some of the lyric. Then they changed the name of the movie to "Hold On", because they didn't dare put out a movie with the title, "A Must To Avoid"! So I had to write another song! Peter Noone wanted me to play guitar, and teach the new song to the other members of the band, but I refused, as I didn't want to change their sound.

-You were certainly very prolific at that time!
-I remember one week I and my songwriting partner Steve Barri recorded about 35 demos, with me on guitar and drums, and Steve on tambourine. One of the best songs from those sessions was "My Little Cream Puff". A 'cream puff' meant a second-hand car. Unfortunately, it's never been released.

-What was Steve's contribution to the Fantastic Baggys output?
-He wrote about half of the second verse of "Summer Means Fun", and I let him do the vocals on that number. That was about it. Unfortunately, he has begun to claim that he wrote songs which he had absolutely nothing to do with, which has put a lot of strain on our relationship. Why would anyone who has had incredible success as a producer of artists like Michael Jackson, The Four Tops, etc., be concerned about a few insignificant surf songs? We worked together from 1963 to 1967, and then we separated, because we didn't have much in common. But in recent years, we've been getting along better. In 1985, I did a show at the Bottom Line, New York, and I performed "Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann" at his request. Then in 1994, a tribute concert to me was held at the Troubador in L.A., where he now lives, and he appeared on stage with me, but we didn't perform together.

-That's not the first time someone has claimed ownership of one of your songs.
-Mmm. About 1988, I found out that Brian Wilson's so-called psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, was claiming that he had written "Eve Of Destruction", which was ludicrous. He obviously picked on that song, as I had a very low public profile at that time, and he figured he could get away with it. But I wrote a letter to Billboard about it, which was actually one of the first to denounce him.

-Do you ever see Brian?
-Not really. I just hope that he has found contentment. His ex-wife, Marilyn, remains one of my best friends. She's a property agent now, and helped me find my new home! But the scene in L.A. is not as small as people imagine. I only ever met Gary Usher once in his life. He impressed me as being a very spiritual person. He was a Krishna devotee, and a strict vegetarian.

-You worked with The Honeys in 1965, didn't you?
-We did some demos together. One of them, "I Love You Much Too Much", should have been a big hit, but for one reason or another, it was never released. It's funny, because I met Ginger after 20 years, and the first thing she asked me was whether or not I still had the tapes for those sessions! The girls....well they're not girls anymore, but randmothers!.... they're still really into singing, and I'm now considering producing their next album.

-What other projects are you working on at the moment?
-I wrote a Christmas song a few years ago, which Art Garfunkel might release. There's also a tribute CD to Brian Wilson, featuring many major artists, which I've been asked to produce. In the 60s I worked with a Canadian singer, Terry Black, who had oodles of number ones there. A retrospective of his career is on the cards, and if it goes ahead, I'll help Terry with 4 new songs for the project. In 1993, I recorded some Bhajans to Sai Baba, one of which has become a worldwide hit, number one in the hit parade of Bhajans for the last 18 months! A Bhajan is an Indian musical form, in which the tempo picks up as the song progresses. And of course I'm working on my own album. One of the songs is one of the most ambitious pieces I've ever recorded. I'd like to produce a Japanese band - I feel an affinity with the Japanese sense of music. When I leave Japan this time, I won't say "Goodbye", but "Au Revoir"... or "Sayonara"